Phyllis and Demophoon

Sir Edward Burne-Jones

 
Phyllis and Demophoon
4 0 c m
 
30cm
actual image size: 16cm x 32cm

Description

The subject of this important work occurs in Chaucer's 'Legend of Good Women', though Burne-Jones also significantly sites Ovid's 'Heroides'. Phyllis, Queen of Thrace, falls in love with Demophoon, son of Theseus. He departs but promises to return in six months' time. When he fails to keep his promise, Phyllis hangs herself, and is turned by the gods into an almond tree. On his eventual return, Demophoon remorsefully embraces the tree, which blooms, as Phyllis emerges to forgive and reclaim her faithless lover.

Both Phyllis and Demophoon are modelled on Maria Zambaco, with whom Burne-Jones had been having an affair since June 1868 (a host of studies exist for both figures, in various locales). And for this reason, in conjunction with Demophoon's nudity, a controversy ensued when it was exhibited at the Old Watercolour Society for the Summer Exhibition of 1870. Within two weeks of the exhibition's opening, Burne-Jones withdrew the painting due to complaints, and two works by other artists were exhibited in its place. In August 1870, Burne-Jones resigned from the Society, over artistic integrity.

© Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery

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